Kids Who Farm lure youth into agriculture using hydroponics that is less susceptible to pests and is “soil-less”

March 21, 2022

Non government organization Kids Who Farm KWH) has started luring the youth into agriculture using  hydroponics technology which  produces vegetables prolifically without requiring much pesticide and can grow “soil-less.”

   During a “Pista ng Pagkain at Kabataang Pinoy” festival held by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA),  KWH Founder Muneer Hinay said that households can significantly contribute to solving Philippines’ food security concern.

   “I realized that even a small child can actually propose solutions to the pressing problems of food security,” said Hinay. 

   That has been true for his family as his daughter Raaina jointly put up KWH’s micro urban garden in her school, Catalina Vda de Jalon Memorial School in Brgy Tumbaga, Zamboanga City.  She was only nine years old then – three years ago.

   Now KWH not only has a joint urban farming project with Raaina’s school.  But its partnership is with a host of other institutions who have the like mind to entice the youth that agriculture is a profitable venture. As an incentive to kids, they are able to bring home and eat what they produce and also get a commensurate pay for their efforts.

   Aside from its partnership with the Department of Education’s “Gulayan sa Paaralan,” KWH has micro farming project with Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD Region 9, iVolunteer and Google.

   It had urban farming lectures for Haven for the Children and Haven for Women facilities, Rotary Interact Clubs from different universities in Zamboanga, Isabela City Youth Organization, and the Special Forces Battalion in Basilan. 

   With its advocacy, it has so far trained more than 400 youths in urban farming.

   Hinay, project manager  for sustainable food system at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), believes his own home province should be food self-sufficient.

    “There’s a big opportunity to really make Zamboanga city food secure.  At present it is 40% self-sufficient in vegetables.  As a city which is the third largest in the Philippines in land area, it’s very ironic that we import 60% of our food as far as from Baguio,” Hinay told the SEARCA seminar. 

Muneer and Raaina Hinay during the SEARCA hydroponics demonstration

   SEARCA aims to popularize farming technologies as part of its contribution to transforming food systems to better achieve food security.

    Obviously, it is important for households to have easy a nearby access to their source of food—making it fresh and nutritious, Hinay stressed.  And what a better way to have a nearby urban farm, no matter how small, than through the hydroponics technology.

   “When we talk about urban agriculture, a big challenge is on space.  But the truth is when you have a small space, then what you need is a big mindset,” he said.

   Hydroponics, which has been proven productive long ago from the Hanging Garden of Babylon to the Aztecs’ floating garden, comes from the Greek words “hydro” or water and “ponos” or work.  That is working or cultivating plants with water.

 “In hydroponics, the plant roots absorb balanced nutrients dissolved in water that meet all the plant development requirements. The basic setup is you have a container or grow box, water inside with nutrient solution, and an air space so the container is not filled with water,” said Hinay.

   The plants are in a growing media such as coconut coir  or coconut peat– instead of soil.   The plants get their nutrients from air and water—macronutrients, micronutrients—vitamins and minerals.

   Among the plants that can be grown via hydroponics are lettuce, pechay, kangkong, bell pepper, tomato, and herbs like basil.

    While the sizable portion of food production is still soil-based, 95%, producing food from hydroponics offers advantages.  Among these are its modular setup (vertical or horizontal), ability for monocropping season after season, and nearly pest-free nature.

   “There isn’t so much waste. There is no leaching (contamination of the water table since plants are in a contained area).  Generally, it is hygienic, and there’s no emergence of pest and diseases.  It is very rare that  hydroponics setup gets pests.”

   There are different types of hydroponics—wick system, ebb and flow which uses submersible pumps for irrigation, and nutrient film technique which also uses submersible pump.  The drip system has continued slowly-releasing irrigation.

  The deep water culture is a passive system without pump as the plant is submerged in the water. Aeroponics uses misting, or roots of plants are sprayed with water or mists using high-pressure pumps.

   The easiest type to use and requires less startup money may be the deep water culture, particularly the Kratky method. 

   Developed by University of Hawaii’s Dr. Bernard Kratky, the method requires less effort to set up and is nutrient and water-efficient, Hinay said.

   What is needed are a growbox, hydroponic nutrient solution (nutrients and fertilizer), a seedling plug (where you put or transplant the seedling ), and a growing media.  Instead of soil, the media uses coconut coir, coconut peat, or foam.

   For the seedling plug, styro cups, plastic cups, and many other waste materials can be used.

   The steps in Kratky are 1.  Make the growbox (using styrobox used as fruit containers),  2.  Transplant the seedlings (seeds should first be sown in a separate sowing medium like a seedling tray).  The upper box, which has holes, is where the seedling is placed. 3.  Make the lower box where you put the water and nutrient solution.  It should be well-sealed. 4. Grow and maintain (make sure the nutrient solution does not run out of water), and 5. Build a greenhouse.

   Soon, the roots can be observed, and the plants are soon harvestable—lettuces  can be harvestable 22 to 25 days from transplanting.  

   In cases when pesticide should be used,  KWH recommends a simple biopesticide.  It is just a mixture of chopped garlic (1 bulb), onion (1 medium), 5 to 6 chilli peppers, dishwashing liquid (1 tablespoon), and water (1 liter).  This is used as spray on plants early in the morning or late afternoon.

    With Kratky hydroponics, learning how to grow plants will not be discouraging for beginners since it is easy to experience success with it.

   “Within a short period of time, you can have immediate success or yield, so you will be encouraged to grow more,” said Hinay. (Melody Mendoza Aguiba)

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